Thursday, 18 January 2018 06:05

Chinook School Division completing update of computer hardware

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Rob Geiger Rob Geiger

The Chinook School Division is completing the two-year process to replace outdated computer hardware in schools with easier to use Chromebooks.


Rob Geiger, the Chinook School Division's manager of information systems, presented the technology status report at a regular meeting of the Chinook Board of Education, Jan. 8.
The main focus of the school division’s current hardware refresh is the purchase of Chromebooks for use by students.
“By the end of this school year, we should have renewed as much hardware as we’re going to renew in the immediate future,” he said after the meeting. “We’ll still be purchasing a few Chromebooks in the next couple of years, but for the most part the large bulk of it will be done.”
Funding considerations and the need for professional development sessions with staff in schools made it necessary to stretch out the hardware refresh over the two-year period.
The professional development sessions in 29 schools have already been completed. Initially 26 schools completed these sessions by the end of June 2017. The remaining three schools participated in such sessions during August 2017.
In 2017 about 1,500 Chromebooks were distributed from March to June. An additional 950 Chromebooks have been purchased to complete the full deployment at a ratio of three students per device.
“We provide the schools with the amount of Chromebooks that they get allotted based on a 1:3 ratio and then we allow them to distribute those how they see best,” he said. “The reason why the 1:3 is being used around the industry is because if you look at when students are using devices throughout the day, they’re not always using a device. So if you look they’re often going to be doing some reading or they’re going to be doing some math or some work that requires pen and paper and they don’t always need a device.”
At the moment 20 schools have already received their full allotment of Chromebooks. Nine schools, including some of the larger schools in the school division, still need to receive their entire allocation of these devices.
Many schools have purchased additional Chromebooks from their own budgets and there are now about 2,800 Chromebooks in regular use within the school division.
The Chromebook is a laptop, but with a different operating system. It is meant to be used while connected to the internet and data is saved to the cloud, an online data centre. Geiger said the feedback from schools on the use of Chromebooks is very positive.
“It's been one of the most positive technology changes I've been involved in in my career,” he noted. “It's not perfect, but schools tend to be really happy with how well they work, how quickly they boot up, how easily they can get them into students' hands.”
It is significantly cheaper to buy Chromebooks for schools. It costs about $260 per device to purchase Chromebooks compared to $750 for a Windows PC.
“It’s significant when you look at the cost of the devices themselves, but also it’s significant when you look at the infrastructure that’s involved in keeping those devices running,” he said. “It’s a considerable saving. Research shows that it’s in the 80 per cent range for how much more efficient it is to manage them in schools and that’s why they’re so popular right across North America.”
The Chromebooks will have a life expectancy of four to six years, but he is unsure how long the batteries in these devices will last. This is the school division’s first experience with the use of wireless portable devices on a large scale, and he anticipates that the batteries of many Chromebooks will have to be replaced during this period.
As is often the case with modern technology, which evolves at a fast pace, the Chromebooks will probably be too old to meet student needs or too expensive to maintain after six years. At the moment it is not even possible to say what technology might be available then to replace the Chromebooks.
“We did not know that Chromebooks was going to be popular five years ago, not really,” he said.
“And so, in four, five years when the Chromebooks are running their course, then we’ll see what’s the best device for kids at that time. It might be that something hasn’t been invented yet.”

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Matthew Liebenberg

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